Monday, April 12, 2021

Robert Lansing


"People don't want to mess with success.  If you do one thing well, then that's all they want you to do.  Very often if you're not careful it just gets narrower and narrower."
  -- Robert Lansing, on being typecast

Robert Lansing, while not exactly a household name, was born Robert Howell Brown in San Diego on June 5, 1928.  He knew from a young age that he wanted to be an actor and was intent on making it on the Broadway stage.  

After completing his education, Lansing enlisted in the Army and went to serve his country during World War 2.  He was stationed in Osaka, Japan, where he worked for Armed Forces Radio.

After the war, he relocated to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he continued working in radio.  He served as an announcer on WANE-AM, where he used his real name of Bob Brown.

In the early 1950s, Lansing settled in New York City.  There he was hired as an actor by a stock company based in Michigan.  The position required that he first join a union, but when he attempted to do so, he was told he would have to change his name, as there was already one Bob Brown.  As the stock company was located in Michigan, he adopted its capital city, Lansing, as his official stage moniker.  He'd use it for the rest of his life.

After Michigan, Lansing returned to New York.  He made his Broadway debut in a 1951 production of Stalag 17.  The play was directed by Broadway legend Jose Ferrer, who was impressed by Lansing's commanding presence.  He cast him in a number of follow-up productions, including Cyrano de Bergerac and Richard III.

Lansing made his television debut in 1956, appearing on Kraft Television Theatre.  A film career followed.  He starred in the 1959 science fiction film 4D Man, in which his character had the ability to walk through walls.  Here's the theatrical trailer.  He later starred in the classic B movie Namu, The Killer Whale, a film imfamous for featuring one of the first orcas ever displayed in captivity.  At some point or another, MGM decided to change the film's title to Namu, My Best Friend.  That's like a complete 180.  You can watch the film in its entirety here.

Lansing returned to television in 1961, when he was cast as Detective Steve Carella on the NBC series 87th Precinct. His co-stars included Norman Fell and Ron Harper.  Here's an episode in its entirety.  He'd continue to act on television throughout the 1960s, appearing on a number of popular series, including The Twilight ZoneThe Mod Squad, and as was required by law of all actors at the time, Gunsmoke.

The guest role Lansing is best associated with however, was as Gary Seven on Star Trek.  The episode entitled "Assignment: Earth" was actually created as a backdoor pilot for a new series, which would have seen Lansing in the starring role alongside a still-unknown Teri Garr (left).  Here's the trailer for the episode.  NBC decided to pass on the new series, but fortunately for creator Gene Roddenberry, they picked up Star Trek for one more season.

Although the series wasn't picked up, Lansing never hurt for work.  He continued acting on television, most notably in a recurring role on the CBS series The Equalizer.  He also had a supporting role on one of the most infamous television bombs of the 1980s, Automan, which looked a lot like the Disney movie Tron.  Here's the series intro.

In 1993, Lansing was cast on the television revival series Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.  He was hired by Executive Producer Michael Sloan, who had worked with Lansing on The Equalizer.  In fact, Lansing's character of Police Captain Paul Blaisdell was written specifically for him.  Here's a scene in which he blows his top at series lead Chris Potter.

Although the series would run for four seasons, Lansing only appeared in the first two.  As his health began to decline, his character was written out of the series, with the hope that he'd one day return.  Sadly, it would never happen. 

Lansing was a lifelong smoker and by all accounts, a heavy one at that.  It ultimately took his life on October 23, 1994.  He was just 66 years old.  His final episode of Kung Fu aired one month later and was dedicated to his memory.

He was buried at Union Field Cemetery in Queens, New York.

Rest in peace, Mister Seven.

  • Union Field Cemetery is also the final resting place of Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz

  • Lansing did a lot of commercial work as well.  Here's a spot for the 1974 Mercury Marquis with actress Jennifer O'Neill.  Here's another for Eckerd Drugs.  Finally, here's one for Giant Eagle grocery stores.

  • Lansing appeared as a special guest on the 1960s game show What's My Line.  Were celebrity panelists Soupy Sales and Charles Nelson Reilly able to correctly guess his identity?  Find out here.

  • Lansing was president of The Players Club, a New York social club for actors, in the early 1990s.  It was founded in the 1880s by Edwin Booth, brother of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. 

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